Sunday, September 29, 2013

Housing on the Green - West Seattle Church of the Nazarene

This month we began work on a new housing development for the West Seattle Church of the Nazarene.  In a year where we have designed a number of unique projects, this may be the most unusual of the bunch.

The project began a few months ago when our client Paar Development was approached by WSCN to look at their churchyard as a potential development site.  The church sits on a large parcel of land with an adjacent green that has for generations served as open space for the neighborhood.  The church building itself needs significant repair and the WSCN leadership was faced with the prospect of having to sell off the land to raise money for the repairs.  Joe Paar and I reviewed the site, determined that its zoning would allow two new single family homes and quickly concluded that such a development could not generate enough revenue to meet WSCN's needs.  In developing two houses, WSCN would give up their legacy and still be unable to fix the church.  The idea was a non-starter.

I continued to do some digging.  After a bit of research, I concluded that the site was a candidate for re-zoning.  So I drew up a quick site plan based on changing from single family zone to low-rise multi-family zone (LR1) that would allow development of six units.  By increasing the unit density, the new plan could generate enough return to pay for the church repairs with enough left over to build a playground in the park as well.  We returned to the congregation with the new proposal, it was met with great enthusiasm, and earlier this month we began the process of applying for a contract re-zone on the site.

Existing SF Zoning.  Two Single Family Homes.  In this scheme, all of the open space becomes private yards for the homes, the church loses her legacy open space, and the scheme fails to generate the revenue needed to repair the church.

Rezone to LR1.  The change to multi-family zoning allows six (6) new units along the back of the property, saving the front two thirds as a public green.  This scheme generates enough revenue to repair the church and upgrade the park.

The re-zoning process is lengthy and complicated.  It'll likely take 12-18 months to get through the various hoops.  We filed the initial paperwork last week to get the process started.  Much to our surprise, within a couple of days West Seattle Blog (WSB) had picked up the story, that the church site was to be re-zoned and that townhouses would be built on the site. The comment section was filled with many concerns about the trees, the neighborhood, development, parking, etc..  Pastors Shaun and Terry Mattson quickly got the editor of WSB in for an interview, and filled in some of the details about the project.  A follow-up story in WSB was well received and the comments were very encouraging. Comparing the tenor of the two stories and the public reaction is an object lesson in the importance of talking to the neighbors about upcoming projects.  Nothing is worse than what people will imagine if given an information vacuum.

Over the next few months we'll work through the initial process with the city, put together some preliminary design ideas and the head out into the neighborhood to do public meetings & get feedback from the folks that live nearby.


  1. Mr. Neiman: Just to clarify, WSB did not "announce" that the church yard was to be "sold off." We didn't say a word about anything resembling a sale, only reported exactly what was on the public record, an early development proposal, as you can see in our first story, three simple, informative paragraphs that even included links explaining contract rezones and PUDAs:

    Our two stories had exactly the same tone, which is objective and neutral, presenting facts. I tried reaching church leaders before publishing that first brief story about what was visible in the city file. I did not get a call back until the next day, and the initial story could not hold that long; citizens complain, rightfully, that it is difficult to understand the development process and their rights to have a say, so one of our specialties is to find newsworthy proposals as soon as they appear on the public record - like this - to at least give residents a chance to find out early enough to get involved.

    After a bit of telephone tag, Pastor Shaun and I connected by e-mail, and he graciously agreed to my request for an interview, which resulted in the Friday followup story, after I talked with him and Pastor Terry at the church Thursday afternoon.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with you that the earlier you let the community know about a plan - the pastors told me it had been under discussion for a long time - the better! The preliminary site plan was filed 9/17/13, according to the DPD site, and I didn't get a tip about the project for almost a week after that. Anyway, kudos to you for writing openly about your process here, I'm going to link this to our followup - Tracy Record, WSB editor/co-publisher

  2. Tracy, you are correct. WSB simply reported what was in the public record, accurately and fairly Given what little is in there at this stage it is natural for people to assume the worst. I have changed the wording in the post above to be more clear.


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